After nearly nine months of planning, sending letters, and garnering community support, the President Project made a disappointing announcement last Thursday night: President Obama, who they had asked several times to give the commencement address for the Class of 2012, would not be coming to Louisville.
“Our ultimate goal will remain unfulfilled,” the Project said on its Facebook page. “The President of the United States, Barack Obama, will not be the Class of 2012’s commencement speaker.”
Michael Perry (12) had started the Project in September, after seeing that President Obama’s Race to the Top, a perennial competition among high schools to have the President give their commencement address, would not take place for 2012. Despite this, Perry thought that he could persuade the President to make a visit, given Manual’s reputation.
To this effect, Perry, Matthew Garofalo (12), Parker Bowling (12), Carolyn Brown (12), Allison Traylor (11), Jacob Sims (12), Julian Wright (11), Timothy Nwachukwu (12), and Ankush Gupta (12) began to generate support and publicity for the Project, which promoted both scholastic excellence and bipartisanship, with the help of several others. They made their intentions known over the course of September and October by announcing the project on several news outlets, including WHAS and WLKY, and by creating a formal invitation at one of Manual’s pep rallies. By January, they had garnered the support of Mayor Greg Fischer, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens, and Governor Steve Beshear, the latter of whom made a video urging the President to attend Manual’s graduation ceremony.
The hype surrounding the project produced a significant and varied student and community response. Some pledged wholehearted support for the Project. Others were indifferent or pessimistic. Some even joked about it, creating a mock Facebook group called “The Bill Cosby Project.”
Still, the team also produced two videos: one, narrated by students and teachers, showcasing Manual’s achievements; the other showcasing Louisville as a city. It also launched a letter-writing campaign, encouraging students, teachers, and those in the community to write letters asking the President to come.
In February, the White House flagged the Project’s invitation as “important,” followed by a meeting between some of the Project members and First Lady Michelle Obama at a local fundraiser.
But that, ultimately, was the closest the Project ever got. After the flagging, the members never heard back from the White House. The President would need a high level of security that could potentially take weeks to plan, but the Project never received any of these security plans. So even though the White House never sent a definite “no,” by May 5, project members had to concede that the President would not be coming.
Acceptance of this disappointed the students, who had been working for months to achieve their goal. “On one side, I have closure,” Garofalo said, “but on the other, a feeling of emptiness because the goal is unfulfilled.”
Still, the members enjoyed the fact that the Project was entirely student-run and bipartisan. “I learned that it is still possible that some people can put their political views aside and work together,” Garofalo said. “It is possible that Democrats and Republicans can work together despite their significant differences.”
“It was the best lesson in politics you could ever have. I really learned exactly what to do to get stuff done,” Perry said.
Principal Larry Wooldridge is now scheduled to give the commencement address.